Roy Wallis & Steve Bruce, “Secularization: the Orthodox Model”

Religion and Modernization: Sociologists and Historians Debate the Secularization Thesis (Oxford: Clarendon, 1992) ed. by Steve Bruce (photo above), is a collection of nine essays written by nine authors on the exact topic suggested by the volume’s title. After a short introduction by Bruce, the first full essay by Roy Wallis and Steve Bruce “outlin[es] the main elements” of “the ‘secularization’ thesis” (3) mentioned in the book’s title, which thesis is “one of sociology’s most enduring research programmes” (8). In the introduction, Bruce had mentioned that secularization is descriptive, rather than prescriptive, so that it

primarily refers to the beliefs of people. The core of what we mean when we talk about this society being more ‘secular’ than that is that the lives of fewer people in the former than in the latter are influenced by religious beliefs. […] (6)

If this phrase about “the beliefs of people” make it sound as though Wallis & Bruce are interested in individuals, the authors are quick to clarify that the theory they are advancing is really about “the diminishing social significance of religion”. This is not the same as “the decline of religion”, only of its “public role” (10). It is also certainly not an “even and irreversible decline” (27). Wallis & Bruce together reiterate that the “explanatory model” attached to this secularization thesis predicts that

the social significance of religion diminishes in response to the operation of three salient features of modernization
[…] (1) social differentiation, (2) societalization, and (3) rationalization. (8-9)

So that, in sum,

modernization […] brings in its wake (and may itself be accelerated by) ‘the diminution of the social significance of religion’. What features of modernization are involved? There seem to be three that are particularly salient: social differentiation, societalization and rationalization. (11)

Before examining these three features (social differentiation, &c.), we should ask: what is “religion”, such that secularization is the loss or diminution of the large-scale social influence of it? Continue reading